Late last night the Canadian R&B outfit The Weeknd (a.k.a. Drake pal Abel Tesfaye) released its second mixtape. Called Thursday, its release is clogging the official site’s servers, although Google can help you find the back door. The basic facts: It’s nine tracks, there’s a Drake collab (called “The Zone,” it has Aubrey showing off his skill for wrapping words around his tongue in a way that made me sit up and take notice at 1 a.m.), and if you run in the sorts of circles that appreciate music that splits the difference between R&B and sorta-wanky “atmospheric” stuff you’ll probably hear it a lot around and about this weekend, as storms usher out summer for good. A couple of two-listen impressions below.
This record sounds great. “Life Of The Party” has a metallic churn that drops out on the verses, leaving a hiccuping beat underneath Tesfaye’s falsetto; “Gone” wraps itself around what sounds like a melody Tesfaye first heard while a mobile-grasping infant and hasn’t been able to get out of his head since. But there’s a discipline missing in the songwriting—I actually groaned when I looked at the tracklisting and saw that only two of the songs were under four minutes. (I also wondered if I should take a Xanax to fully appreciate the record, but decided against it, since it was 1:30 a.m. and I had blogging to do in a few hours.) The songs sprawl and burrow into K-holes in a way that I get, given the ethos of sex, drugs, and drink guiding the whole thing; the “sorry, baby, I just gotta be me” nu-casanova ethos embodied by lyrics like “I’ll be making love to her through you/ So let me keep my eyes closed/ And I wont see a damn thing/ I can’t feel a damn thing” is absolutely of a piece with this sort of excess. And yet I feel like there aren’t enough dramatic underpinnings to warrant the nowheres to which the songs travel; on second listen I was irritated in a way similar to the way I’m provoked when listening to Animal Collective, thinking about points being muddled sonically and feeling old and out of touch while muttering “get to the point already, God.” I was also actively resisting the urge to flip to my records by jj and Miguel, two artists are operating in similar hazed-out-R&B modes—but whose songwriting is more disciplined, with more of a payoff and less of an intense gaze split between the navel and the medicine cabinet. Is it too much to hope that when one of the women Tesfaye loves and leaves gets it into herself to record an answer track or two, it’ll be pointed enough to snap him out of his haze?